Life’s What You Make It

This week we’reshowing our love for Northeast Florida’s makers, the folks who provide locally sourced, artisanal alternatives to homogenous mass culture. Why? Because we’re them and they’re us. You see, as an alt-weekly, we “make” something, too. We make a locally sourced, artisanal print magazine every week. And we’ve been doing it here in Northeast Florida for nearly 32 years.

First, a brief history of “making.” Turns out, it’s nothing new. Ever since the Industrial Revolution spawned the machine, we humans have raged against it. Anticipating the counterculture by a good 100 years, British designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late-19th century championed painstakingly intricate organic forms just to spite the cookie-cutter technology of the day. Many makers now use digital tech, but they continue to reject the top-down machine model of production and distribution.

There is something to be said for industry, though. Economies of scale kicked open the doors of leisure and comfort to working folk, while communication technology and modern transportation expanded our collective horizons. Good stuff.

By the 1960s, however, accessibility had given way to conformity, and we learned its many hidden costs. Mass-produced goods became identified with throwaway culture. Then as now, industrial producers cut corners wherever they could. The industrial process itself wrought havoc on the environment and public health.

Finally, consolidation in logistics and media empowered the massive, faceless corporations that sold these goods to groom customers from the television screen to the point of sale. The consumer became just as much a cog in the industrial machine as the worker. And they didn’t like it.

It’s no surprise that the alt-weekly came into its own in that same rebellious decade. From humble beginnings in New York’s Village Voice, the alternative media movement blossomed in step with the counterculture’s advocacy of the human individual over and against the machine—not technology per se, mind you, but the machine-like regimentation of human society (see Lewis Mumford). If staid corporate dailies wouldn’t touch contemporary realities like sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll—or their cultural corollaries: civil rights, pacifism and ecology—alt-weeklies would.

Most important, though, alt-weeklies served their respective communities. You didn’t have to be slick, speak with a non-regional accent or sign to a major label to be a reader, writer or subject. You just had to be you.

Today’s makers share these impulses. As does most of the nation, really. The countercultural ethic seems to have won. Everyone is anti-establishment these days. (But it’s a pyrrhic victory). “Disruption” is the order of the day in corporate boardrooms. (Yet wealth continues to become ever more concentrated at the very top.) Nobody wants to fight imperial wars anymore. (And yet, we’re still deployed around the world.) Most everyone agrees that something is wrong with ol’ Mother Nature. (But vested interests refuse to surrender their profits, and they’ve mobilized willful ignorance in a literally scorched-earth defense.) Most everyone says racism wrong. (But we’re now riven over the definition of American equality; is it equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?) We’ve all accepted the implicit bias of corporate media toward the wealthy and well-connected. (But we’ve drawn different, even mutually exclusive conclusions. Some use this knowledge to improve the edifice of shared communication; some, to simply tear it all down.)

Founded in 1987, Folio Weekly is continuing the tradition of bucking tradition. But unlike some of today’s more exotic alternative media offerings, we still subscribe to those founding values in good faith. Without community roots and responsibility, “alternative” media is just Urban Outfitters with a press card. Here’s lookin’ at you, Vice. The Canadian start-up built an international hype machine on “edgy” lifestyle content sourced from around the world and quickly leveraged the eyeballs in exchange for investment from the same rich rubes who inflate the Silicon Valley bubble before and after every burst. Behind the scenes, however, the organization behaved badly, to put it mildly. Conceived by hustlers and opportunists, Vice is the antithesis of alternative media. (In related news, co-founder Shane Smith was last spotted in Saudi Arabia, advising Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on plans to build a global media empire.)

Our humble publication is—wait for it—locally and independently owned, still, after nearly 32 years in business. Our editors and writers are your friends and neighbors (and occasional punching bags). Like the makers in the pages that follow, you can reach out and touch us. Indeed, yours truly distributes print copies like an old-time street hawker every week at our #FindYourFolio Happy Hours. (See back cover for details.)

This is your community forum. Write us a letter, and we’ll publish it. Give us a lead, and we’ll investigate it. Nominate a local hero for one of our weekly Bouquets. Nominate a local villain for one of our weekly Brickbats. Vote in our new Best of the Beaches readers’ poll. Sound off in a Backpage Editorial. Like Mark Hollis sang, “Baby, life’s what you make it.”